The Sport of Kings comprises two main types of race: flat races (e.g. The Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe) and jumps races (e.g. The Gras Savoye Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris).
Flat races are run over a distance of between 4 and 20 furlongs (around 800 to 4,000m), the so-called “Classic” distance being a mile and a half (2,400m). In flat racing, the horses have to carry a weight of between 51 and 65 kilos (jockey + saddle).
Jumps races are contested over distances of between 14 furlongs and four and a half miles (2,800 to 7,300m). In jumps races, the horses generally carry between 61 and 75 kilos in weight (jockey + saddle).
There are three types of jumps races:
Hurdles: All of the jumps are identical (1.10m high and 1m wide), and the course comprises a minimum of 7 hurdles which are to be jumped over a minimum distance of a mile and a half (2,500m). Hurdles races are often entered by horses that are training to run steeplechases.
Steeplechase: Steeplechase courses must have at least 8 jumps and span a minimum distance of one mile and 7 furlongs (3,000m). Steeplechase obstacles include hurdles, walls and ditches, the most famous of which is the Rail Ditch and fence (the “juge de paix”) which measures 4.10m in length and is 1.60m high. The main event in the steeplechase calendar is the Gras Savoye Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris, which is held at Auteuil racecourse during the month of May.
Cross-country: Formerly held at Maisons-Laffitte, this type of race is run on varied terrain over a minimum distance of about two and a half miles (4,000m), with obstacles kept as natural as possible. Cross-country races tend to be rather spectacular, and are often held at racecourses like Compiègne and Fontainebleau. The highlight of the cross-country calendar is the Meeting de Craon at La Touche racecourse.
Flat racing is the world’s most popular type of racing. Its principle is simple: the starting gates are opened to signal the start of the race and the winner is the first horse past the finishing post. Numerous criteria, such as the position of the horse in relation to the rails, the weight the horse is carrying, and the race’s distance, all come into play to make the race more exciting. Flat races are generally run over a distance of between a mile and a mile and a half: the so-called “classic” distance being the mile-and-a-half, which is the distance over which the world’s most famous flat race, the Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, is run.